BIRDS • by Wendy Toth Notarnicola

The kid across the courtyard was driving me mad. He kept playing the same annoying ragtime song over and over every day since quarantine began. I’d tried ignoring it, but it didn’t work — I couldn’t even hear myself think over the music. I tried stopping my ears with my hands, but the sound seeped through my fingers and leaked into my brain. I used to love listening to the birds singing outside, but I hadn’t heard them in months, because the piano drowned them out.

I wasn’t even safe when I slept, because the awful song started invading my dreams. Sometimes I’d wonder if they really were dreams — maybe the kid was actually up all night playing.

I started fantasizing about smashing his piano to bits and throwing the remains on a bonfire.  Then I began eyeing my meat cleaver, wondering how easy it would be to chop off his hands.

This morning I woke up drenched in sweat. I’d dreamed that I kidnapped the kid, hacked him apart, and threw his body into a shallow grave.  Shuddering, I shook the sleep from my head and padded to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee. As I lifted the mug, I noticed clumps of dirt under my fingernails. Then I realized I could hear the birds singing for the first time in months.

Wendy Toth Notarnicola is a freelance editor and writer living in Long Valley, New Jersey with her family. Her work has been accepted for publication in several journals, including Akitsu Quarterly, Wales Haiku Journal, Presence, Hedgerow, and the Haiku Society of America’s 2020 Anthology.

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